THE BOSS STROLLED INTO THE BOARDROOM.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the numbers don’t look good.” He didn’t sit. He just stood at the table’s head with a bunch of papers in his hand.
Eddie coughed. All others swallowed. Otherwise there was no other noise.
“Do you remember when I interviewed each of you? When was that, Carla? Three years back? Andrew, you’ve been with us for, what, four? Do you remember the question that I asked you at your final interview? ‘What is win-win?’, I asked you all.”
Do you remember the question that I asked you at your final interview? ‘What is win-win?’, I asked you all.”
Helen looked around the room nervously.
“Well, back then you convinced me; all of you. But clearly from these numbers,” he looked down at the papers in his hand, “you are not convincing our key accounts.”
Frank rotated his chair from side to side.
“So,” continued the boss, “We’re going to play a little game.”
He smiled. It wasn’t friendly.
“You are all facing a partner. Andrew, you’re facing Brett. Carla, you’re facing Darren. Eddie, you’re facing Frank. Gerry, you’re facing Helen. There are four teams. Got it?”
Reluctantly, each of the partners made eye contact. While they didn’t say anything, they were all thinking it – so sales were so bad that it had come to this? Me or him. Her or me.
“Frank, put your hand down. Now, here is the one, simple rule: if you can get your partner to stand behind your chair I will give you 50 dollars.”
The silence was cut by a subtle exhale of relieved breath.
“Did you hear what I said?”
Frank’s hand darted back up.
“For a minute there I thought we were part of Hunger Games.”
“No Frank. Your job, and life, are safe…for now. Do you understand the rules?”
Frank continued, “So you want me to convince Eddie to stand behind my chair, right? And then you’ll give me 50 bucks, right? We’re not fired.”
“That’s correct. You’re not fired.” The boss pulled out his wallet from his breast pocket, and with his thumb and forefinger gently pulled out a crisp, fifty-dollar note.
“As I said,” he continued. “There’s only one rule. I’ll repeat. If you can make your partner stand behind your chair, then I’ll give you 50 dollars.” This second time, there was an ever so slight emphasis on ‘chair’ and ‘you’.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your time starts…NOW!” The boss clapped his hands. Helen visibly jumped.
Silence, but this time for only a second. And then the room erupted. Andrew was the loudest. “Get over here Brett,” he shouted. “Move!” Brett only laughed. “No, you come here, moron!”
Carla and Darren were less confrontational. Carla started. “Hi Darren. Let’s split it 50-50. OK?” Darren nodded. “OK,” replied Darren. But you come here, and I’ll give you 25 dollars. I promise. “No, you come here! And then I’ll give you 25 dollars,” retorted Carla.
Eddie and Frank were also in hot debate. “OK, Eddie. Trust me mate. If you come to me, we’ll share it fairly,” suggested Frank. Eddie stood, but then sat down quickly, as he realised nobody else was showing any sign of movement. “I promise, Eddie! Please!” urged Frank, “Trust me!”
The commotion of the three groups was in stark contrast to that of Helen and Gerry. Both were silent. Gerry clasped her hands in front of her, and stretched. Helen looked around the room.
“Gerry, Helen, are you OK? Do you understand the rules?” the boss probed.
Helen and Gerry replied in unison. “Yes. Yes.”
“OK…so…?” the boss’s eyebrows were raised. “Are you going to, you know, negotiate?”
Helen blurted. “OK! It’s yours. You win Gerry.” Gerry said nothing and only continued to stretch. Neither of them moved.
“Do it! NOW!” screamed Andrew.
“Fifty-fifty! That’s fair!” shouted Carla.
“OK! OK! I’m coming. Don’t get so excited,” announced Eddie, as he stood, once more, pushed in his chair and slowly walked around to stand behind Frank. He still wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing. Why wasn’t anyone else moving?, he thought to himself
“YES! Winner!” said Frank, as he fist-punched the air. The boss clapped loudly for the second time.
Helen jumped, again.
“That’s it folks!” announced the boss. “Frank well done. You have earned yourself 50 dollars.” Andrew slumped into his chair, a face of frustration as he tapped aggressively at an invisible button in the direction of Brett. “That money was mine, ours, Brett!” he mouthed across the boardroom table. “We lost!”
Carla and Darren were only slightly more gracious in their defeat. “Almost!” said Darren. “You were too slow.” “I was too slow?” retorted Carla, “You were, sloth!”
Helen and Gerry were just quiet.
The boss clapped again. “OK!” he announced. “Congratulations to Frank, who got his partner to stand behind his chair. Here’s your 50 dollars, Frank.” The boss leaned forward and handed Frank the note.
“I think you mean twenty-five,” said Eddie. “Half’s mine!”
“That depends on Frank,” added the boss. “You don’t get anything. Only Frank does. He got you to stand behind his chair. If Frank wants to share it, then that’s up to Frank.”
Frank looked pleased. Holding the edges of the note, he waved it around like a flag.
“You did get an agreement, right?” continued the boss, as he looked at Eddie. “Did you agree to share the winnings?”
Frank interjected. “I said we’d share the money. And we will. Here’s twenty. I don’t have any other change.” Frank opened his wallet wide in emphasis.
“But that’s not fifty-fifty!” blurted Eddie. “You ripped me off!”
“Who said anything about fifty-fifty?!” replied Frank. “I said ‘share’!”
“I did!” shouted Carla. “I promised Darren half of the money. We would have won Darren! You big oaf! You’re too slow!”
The boss interjected. “No you wouldn’t have. None of you have actually won.”
“I have!” announced Frank, as he leaned back in his chair, while gently sniffing the 50 dollar note.
“No, not even you, Frank. None of you truly reached win-win. Frank, you didn’t get 50 bucks. You got 30. Carla and Darren would have only got 25 each. Listen again to the rules: ‘If you can get your partner to stand behind your chair, then I will give you fifty dollars’.”
None of you truly reached win-win. Frank, you didn’t get 50 bucks. You got 30. Carla and Darren would have only got 25 each.
The boss tried again. “What does win-win mean? Darren?”
“Um,” said Darren nervously, “fifty-fifty?”
“NO!” shouted the boss. “Carla?”
“I was going to say the same as Darren.”
Frank laughed, “It’s thirty-twenty, baby! Thirty for me, and twenty for Eric!”
“Wrong Frank,” countered the boss. “Win-win is keeping both of you happy. Neither of you should feel like you ‘lost’ something. You should both be satisfied with the outcome. Now this is money, but imagine if we had to negotiate over, say, children as in a divorce? Would you be as happy seeing your kids for two-thirds or half of the time?”
The group of key account managers looked down at the table. Everyone had kids. Brett tried to lift the tone. “I bet Andrew’s parents would have liked to have seen him half the time. He must have been a real terror!”
There was a slight chuckle.
The boss continued. “So nobody can see the solution here? Do I have to repeat the…”
But then the boss paused. Helen was motioning to Gerry to rise.
“Come here. Come here,” whispered Helen. She gestured to Gerry to first stand, and then come over. As Gerry made a move, Helen also stood. They both walked towards one another, and then paused in front of the boss. The boss’s eyebrows were raised, but he didn’t say a word.
“Keep going,” urged Helen. Gerry did as she was told; clearly not understanding exactly what was happening, but not wanting to cause a scene. “Stand behind my chair.” And then Gerry’s metaphorical penny dropped.
And like that, the two crossed paths and then simultaneously finished by standing behind each other’s vacated chairs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have the real winners!” the boss announced. His single clap became applause; a sign of relief clearly etched on his face. He took one step towards Frank, and with the dexterity of a long beaked stork picking up a grub, plucked the fifty-dollar note from under Franks nose with two fingers. As he took the three steps to Helen he once again reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out his wallet, but instead of returning the note from where it had come, the boss pulled out another crisp, 50-dollar bill. He now had a total of 100 dollars in his hands.
“Helen, for getting Gerry to stand behind your chair, here’s fifty dollars.” He turned, took five steps to the other side of the boardroom table. “And Gerry, congratulations. Here is another fifty dollars, for getting Helen to stand behind your chair.” He emphasised chair more this time.
The two looked proud.
All but Frank realised what had happened. He was still looking at his fingers where his winnings once were.
The five negotiators
Andrew, Brett, Carla, Darren, Helen, and Gerry represent the five types of negotiators you will encounter. Andrew, Brett and Frank are all competitive – demanding, even threatening, until their opponents concede. They show little to no compromise, and winning is more important than maintaining the relationship.
Competitive negotiators want a quick win today, because there may be no tomorrow.
Carla and Darren, are strong believers that win-win means fifty-fifty, because they also believe that the metaphorical pie is fixed. This zero-sum philosophy ensures that any gain is at the expense of the other and there is no comprehension that the pie, or 50 dollars, could double. As a consequence, the very best outcome imaginable is 50-50. But that’s not win-win. That’s half win, half win. Which also means half lose, half lose.
Eddie is an accommodator, and was unluckily paired with Frank, a competitor. In these aggressive-passive relationships it is the Eddies of the world that, through their own naivety, get cheated by others. Of course, we are all accommodators at times, particularly within the family unit, but at the negotiation table, it’s a flaw that leads to a win for the other party.
And Helen and Gerry, while finally saving the day, were originally conflict avoiders. Rather than risk damaging their relationship with one another or feeling embarrassed over a heated debate, both, at first, decided to avoid playing the game. Harmony above winning – that was of course until Helen figured out that harmony could be maintained, and a positive outcome for both accomplished, if both were problem solvers. Ignoring the limiting belief that negotiations are constrained by a fixed sum, Helen coached her partner Gerry, and literally doubled her money. Fifty-fifty became one hundred-one hundred. Or in other words, true win-win.
Knowing your preferred negotiation style is your first step to moving towards a problem-solving mentality. The question now remains, “Andrew, Brett, Carla, Darren, Eddie, Frank, Gerry or Helen. In your next negotiation, which role will you play?”